Just two weeks into their conference schedule, the Cougars have already played their most winnable conference game, and their toughest. Now 0-2 in conference play and 2-3 overall, the Cougars begin a stretch of games that barring any kind of drastic changes, they will not be favored to win. While this may seem depressing for Cougar fans, the bright side of that is that the Cougars will be able to play with nothing to lose and any more wins at this point will generate some positive buzz around the program.
This portion of the schedule doesn't start on the easy side of it though, as the Cougars have to travel to Corvallis to face Oregon State, who is playing as good as just about anyone in the country right now. What Cougar fans probably looked at one of the games where they had a good chance to steal a road win that they needed to get to 6-6 going into the season, now looks like an incredible challenge.
However, the game does seem to fit the bill of one of those games where the unexpected happens. Yes, the Beavers have been incredibly impressive thus far, but it would be hard to disagree against the argument that they are playing above their talent level, and it is just naturally hard to do that week after week. Mike Riley does a great job of keeping the Beavers consistent, but they are ripe for a let down game, and if the Cougars are lucky, and come to Corvallis ready to play, it wouldn't be shocking to see them pull off the upset.
But how exactly could this happen?
The good news for the Cougars is that the Beavers main weakness appears to be their pass defense, and the Cougars only real strength is their passing game. The Beavers gave up more than 400 yards through the air to Arizona and more than 350 to UCLA. I don't think Connor Halliday is as good as Matt Scott or Brett Hundley, but I do believe that the Cougars have a better collection of receivers than either of those teams, and neither has a big play guy the caliber of Marquess Wilson. It will be a little tougher for the Cougars to get their air attack going than it was for the Bruins and Wildcats since they will be playing on the road, but Corvallis doesn't quite have the crippling crowd noise that a place like Autzen or Husky Stadium has, so it won't be impossible.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cougars pass defense will have to be able to frustrate Sean Mannion much in the same way that they frustrated Marcus Mariota last week. However, these two things are not one in the same, as Mannion is one of the hottest passers in the league and I'm not sure if Mariota has thrown a spiral yet this year. The Beavers also have a nasty set of speedy receivers who love to crack big plays, and they will provide the biggest test that the Cougar defensive backs have faced so far this year. The Cougars will need to find a way to get some pressure on Mannion and get him to resort to his old ways of tossing interceptions if they hope to keep it competitive because Mannion will pick them apart with his blazing receivers if he has time.
The initial success that Beavers have jumped out to has made most forget, but Oregon State was actually 1-5, and the Cougars 3-3 and thinking about a bowl game heading into their matchup last year in Seattle and pulled off the kind of nothing to lose win that the Cougars hope to secure on Saturday. Now it's the Cougars turn to return the favor.